Living Heritage of Vadnagar: documentation and comparative analysis

The Centre for Heritage Management, Ahmedabad University, India in collaboration with the Department of Tourism, Ionian University (Corfu), Greece conducted a research project funded by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Gujarat State, India.

The objectives of the research project, through a comparative study of the historic site of Eleusis, Greece, are:

  • study Vadnagar as a living heritage site, in connection with its local community;
  • study the complexities in the operation and management of Vadnagar; and
  • design suggestions towards best practices for the operation and management of Vadnagar and the sustainable development of its local community, focusing on tourism

The content of the research is the comparison of Eleusis (E) and Vadnagar (V) in terms of the following elements:

  • Continuity of habitation, of approximately 3,000 years.
  • Continuity and evolution (with discontinuities) of religious practices. E: Eleusinian mysteries in antiquity; Christian practices until the present date; examples of ancient religious practices adopted in the Christian context. V: Hindu rituals; and dynamism, amalgamation, and adaptation of different religious practices over time to the present date.
  • Strong interest in the establishment and promotion of heritage significance, often with political encouragement. E: excavations, formation of archaeological site, opening of archaeological museum, exhibitions and museum collaborations, and renovation of the archaeological museum. V: excavations, ongoing process of opening of an experience museum.
  • Strong interest in the establishment and promotion of artistic events. E: Aeschylus festival; and traditional/folklore dances. V: Tana-Riri festival; and local folklore.
  • Increasing recognition, and branding. E: current Cultural Capital of Europe. V: on the tentative list for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
  • Recent interest in tourism promotion. E: ongoing efforts towards exploiting the status of Cultural Capital of Europe. V: Gujarat tourism initiatives including the religious trail.
  • Interest in industrialization. E: a major industrial city. V: ongoing proposal of an industrial setup.

Early findings (indicative examples)

It is most interesting to explore this process of continuity and evolution of the religious practices over time, as well as the mechanisms and factors that affected them, in the two sites / countries, to understand the identity of the contemporary local communities at present and in the future.

Specifically: Regarding Eleusis, Eleusinian mysteries were a most important religious ritual, thanks to which Eleusis was considered one of the few sacred cities of the Classical era. At the same time, Eleusinian mysteries were considered very exclusive rituals addressing a very limited number of people, which did not allow for their documentation. Eleusinian mysteries were banned with the coming of Christianity, as they were considered irrelevant to, and even dangerous, to the Christian faith.

However, with the formation of the modern Greek state and its attachment to the Classical past, the interest in the Eleusinian mysteries has been revived as a part of the identity of the local administration and community, a development that was reflected in a series of activities including: (i) the opening of the archaeological site, and the opening and the renovation of the archaeological museum; and (ii) artistic events and representations of the Cultural Capital of Europe. Furthermore, the Eleusinian mysteries can now serve as one of the strongest brands of Eleusis in their attempt towards tourism development, exploiting the continuing interest of the contemporary world in Classical antiquity. Therefore, this discontinuity of the ritual, as well as the revival of the interest of the local administration and community in them (for political and tourism purposes) in connection with the lacking recording and documentation, raises strong concerns about their authenticity and their connection with the contemporary local community.

In another example, the custom of “Panagia Mesosporitissa” (“Virgin Mary of the mid-sowing season”, named after the specific period of the year in the middle of the sowing season), originates from antiquity, taking place in the area of the Temple of Demeter in Eleusis. This ritual was then adapted by the local community, as an inseparable part of the local identity, to the Christian context, and has been taking place over the course of time until the present date in the Church of Virgin Mary which was built very close to the ancient Temple of Demeter (within the archaeological site of Eleusis today) once per year. It is important to note that this ritual takes place only in Eleusis, and in no other part of the Christian world in Greece and internationally. Therefore, this is an example of a ritual from antiquity that continued throughout the Byzantine era until the present date, thanks to its connection with the local community.

The aforementioned religious practices of Eleusis could be compared to the religious practice of Bhavai. This is a local custom associated to Hinduism which over the course was dominated over time by artistic and folklore (consisting mostly of drama, theatre, and music) customs that are followed by also non-Hindus, as part of the local (and not necessarily religious) identity.

In another example, there are the Nagarbramens associated with the area of Vadnagar. This is a community considered to be of Greek origins who have adapted and follow Hinduism and the associated rituals as an inseparable part of their identity until the present date.

The results upon the completion of the project, would be:

-Potential of expanding the research project on Living Heritage Sites in India and Greece, with the participation of more universities and organizations from the two countries.

-Opportunities for field trips and further joint educational activities between the two countries.

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